Huffington Post - Stephen Winick

26 August 2013 

Album review – The Plum Tree And The Rose. “A lovely album that sparkles with intelligent writing, moving music, and pristine production.”

Sarah McQuaid is an excellent singer, songwriter and guitarist whose music crosses the borders among Celtic, English, and Early music. Her voice has the smoke and savor of a good single malt whiskey, and she uses it beautifully. Her debut CD, When Two Lovers Meet, was reissued a few years ago. It’s a quietly powerful album of mostly traditional material that stands up there with the classics of Celtic music. On “When a Man’s In Love” she reminds me of the version performed by Lisa Moscatiello with The New St. George almost twenty years ago -- and that’s a ringing endorsement from me! Other songs given lovely arrangements include “The Sprig of Thyme,” “When Two Lovers Meet,” and “The Parting Glass.” McQuaid leads several sets of tunes with accomplished DADGAD guitar playing. Guest musicians include some of the finest in Irish music, including Gerry O’Beirne on strings (who also produced and co-arranged the album), John McSherry on pipes and whistles, and Niamh Parsons on voice.

McQuaid’s latest album, The Plum Tree and the Rose, finds her excelling as a songwriter. She now lives in England, and many of the songs have an English theme, but the singing and playing continues to have an Irish feel. Her original song “Hardwick’s Lofty Towers” tells the tale of the prominent lady Bess of Hardwick (1521-1608), Countess of Shrewsbury, in language that would be equally at home in Irish traditional ballads or Shakespeare sonnets. It’s part of a loose trilogy of songs with “In Derby Cathedral” and the title song; the former is about the place where Bess is buried, while the latter sounds like Bess musing on one of her late husbands. All three songs explore the question of the meaning of life in quiet, personal terms. Three arrangements take on Early Music: a Provencal troubadour song by Ellian du Cadenet (1160-1235), a lute song by John Dowland (1563-1626), and the catch “New Oysters New,” which was published by Thomas Ravenscroft (1582-1635), who also gave us “Three Blind Mice.” McQuaid’s approach provides a good example of how a folk-trained vocal style can benefit such songs, turning them into accessible music without harming their delicate complexity. Her fine work, supported again by O’Beirne and a cast of musicians including Rosie Shipley (fiddle), Trevor Hutchinson (bass), and Rodd McVey (keyboards), results in a lovely album that sparkles with intelligent writing, moving music, and pristine production.

McQuaid will be on tour in the US in September. Check out the schedule and go if you can – she’s an excellent performer and always delivers the goods.